Mollypenny the hospital clown retires leaving big shoes to fill

The stream18:45How clowning can help sick children

As her alter ego Mollypenny the Clown, nurse Ruth Cull has spent two decades bringing joy to sick children at an Ottawa hospital, while helping them deal with what they’re going through.

“A little boy wanted to send his cancer into space,” said Cull, who is due to retire next month from his job at CHEO.

Doctors had performed tests on the boy and were awaiting lab results, she said. The stream Matt Galloway. The child, possibly believing the tests contained the cancer itself, insisted that the report be returned to him, so he could send it back.

Donning her bright blue wig, chunky shoes and shiny red nose, Mollypenny was happy to help.

“We went to an undisclosed location…and he threw it through balloons, and off we went,” she said. “I now think he might be 24, 25 [years old].”

Mollypenny speaks with children at a CHEO event. (Submitted by CHEO)

Cull began working as an operating room nurse at CHEO in 1974. When she retired from that role, she assumed the role of Mollypenny in 2001. She will retire on October 31. CHEO is now looking for a new Therapeutic Clown to assist patients.

A press release from the hospital quoted the clown as saying it was time “to board the MollyPop spaceship” and join his good friends JelloHead and Tonker in (the fictional) Galaxy Sprinkle – recently “photographed for the first times by the James Webb Telescope”, on the outskirts of the (very real) Cartwheel Galaxy.

In her 21 years as a therapeutic clown, she has helped hundreds of families, including Catherine Sands and her son Gabriel, now 15, who was treated for a critical burn at CHEO at age eight. year.

Gabriel remembers being tired all the time, but Mollypenny “gave me energy every day”.

His mother Catherine also remembers his impact.

“Mollypenny walked into the room one day and I saw my son light up,” she said.

“She didn’t have to say anything, she just walked in, and he was like, ‘Hey, this is a cool place.'”

LISTEN | Mollypenny meets one of her biggest fans, Gabriel Sands:

Ottawa morning8:37Mollypenny’s final act

“Incredible distraction medicine”

Cull wanted to get involved in therapeutic clowning as a way to use humor to help sick children. She took a class at clown college to prepare for her therapeutic work, but found that the classes were focused on drama and performance. She therefore had to learn on the job, relying on the abundant help of her colleagues.

If a child was upset or not doing what the doctors and nurses expected of them, Mollypenny would visit them unannounced.

“I would come in and sit there sometimes, and Brenda, [a nurse,] would come later and she said, ‘Does this clown bother you?’ “Cull said.

Mollypenny would protest as she was not bothering anyone, bicker with the nurse and “pretty soon the kid would be laughing and trying to figure out what was going on here,” Cull said.

Improving the child’s mood usually meant an easier time with treatment, and Caul always strived to make the hospital a fun and friendly environment.

She has always been focused on empowering children and listening to what they had to say.

A great pair of red clown shoes
When Cull retires, she leaves big shoes to fill. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

This included “giving them the option to tell me to leave if they want to because they have no control in the hospital setting,” she said.

Dr. Donna Johnston, chief of hematology and oncology at CHEO, said Cull “will be missed more than she can even imagine.”

Mollypenny provides “incredible distraction medicine that works better than a lot of the things we do,” she said.

“She changed the way our children receive treatment and she changed the way we treat children – and really for the better.”

Clowning around also helps parents

Melissa Holland, who works as a therapeutic clown Dr Fifi, said her work is also helpful for parents.

“The nature of the child … is to want to play, and so, you know, whatever state he is in, we try to find a way to be able to play with him,” said Holland, co- founder of the Dr. Clown Foundation, which places clowns in hospitals and CHSLDs throughout Quebec.

WATCH | Therapeutic clowns spread joy at the Montreal Children’s Hospital:

Montreal Therapeutic Clowns

Therapeutic clowns use improvisation and physical comedy to bring smiles to sick children at the Montreal Children’s Hospital.

When parents see their child having fun, it’s “ok a long way to help them recalibrate and say, ‘Oh okay, okay, it’s just a moment right now. My child is still a child and needs to play,” she said.

It can “maybe help them reset and be able to have more play elements and be more playful themselves,” she said.

Holland said the practice of therapeutic clowning has grown over the past 30 years around the world. In 2015, Argentina legislated that all hospitals in the country have one.

Cull said she felt “truly blessed” to have played the role of Mollypenny, using humor to help families.

She said she would miss her work at the hospital, but could return to the role from time to time. As Mollypenny said in her retirement announcement, “The great thing about being a clown is that space travel is so much easier than it is for regular astronauts.

“That means I might be able to come back to visit CHEO and my Earth friends from time to time.”

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Cull is retiring on October 31. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)


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